I’ll never forget Summer 2015.
Not because of an extravagant vacation or because I gallivanted around those warm months with a new bae, but because it was the first time I’d been in a crowd full of white people who were shouting the word “n***a.” I was the news editor at VIBE and I’d made my way to the middle of a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee to cover that year’s Bonnaroo Festival. As my coworker and I indulged in a DJ set before Dej Loaf was set to take the stage, it happened: a group of white kids from God-knows-where were all chanting along to YG’s “My N***a.” Openly. Loudly. Proudly.
It stopped me in my tracks. Before that unbearably hot day in Tennessee, I had only frequented rap concerts in New York City; the small, hood kinds that were filled with mostly Black kids and smelled like clouds of sour marijuana. And even when the white kids came out — because they loved hip-hop too — I had never witnessed anything like what my eyes and ears experienced at Bonnaroo. I was angry and hurt. I wanted to grab a white girl by her ponytail. Later on that evening, I cringed as I watched more white kids jam to Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” and “Alright,” wondering if they even knew what they were singing along to. The experience led to a full-on argument between my coworker Stacy and I about whether or not a majority of them truly understood hip-hop culture or whether they treated it like some kind of fad. I still lean toward the latter today.
Last night (Nov. 14), the internet rejoiced as Rae Sremmurd triumphantly overtook The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” reign to snatch up the No. 1 record in the country with “Black Beatles” with Gucci Mane. It was the first time the Mississippi duo (and their guest feature) achieved the honor, which was due to the song going viral through the #MannequinChallenge. I was happy for them; “Black Beatles” was my s**t months before people started documenting creative ways to stand still. But what I take umbrage to is their accomplishment being touted as a “win for America,” just days after the country elected an openly racist and xenophobic candidate as its 45th President.
Tweets started rolling in with a “hope” for America that I still don't understand:
America has a racist president.... and the kids in the country love rap music + culture. The future still bright. #blackbeatles #1— G.O. (@PROMOKiD) November 15, 2016
Along with the crowd of white kids I didn’t know, I also watched a "newly-minted white friend" shout “n***a” on that same trip in 2015. The night before we hit the Bonnaroo grounds, Kanye West’s “All Day” blared through the speakers of our hotel room, and he did not hesitate to sing along – word for word. With every stinging “all day n***a,” me and Stacy (who is Black) looked over at each other, unsure of what to do. We decided that he was too drunk to confront that night and vowed to check him the next time he said it. That "newly-minted white friend" was not just some hypebeast kid; he had a deep love for hip-hop music and flexed his knowledge of the classics for the duration of the trip. He never said the N-word again and we all let it roll off our backs.
But I never forgot. A year later, that "newly-minted white friend" posted a very offensive video on Facebook. Just days after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s murders, he sat in a car and pretended he was just stopped by police. Feigning fear, he ended the clip by saying the cops just stopped him for being “fabulous.” It was a poorly timed “joke,” and I decided to send him a scathing text message of my disapproval for his lack of sensitivity. I asked him: “You know who the WORST kind of white people are, when discrimination and brutality are so prevalent against black people? The kind of white people who STAN for Juicy J, rap the N-WORD along with Kanye West, sing “d**k in her mouth all day” with Killer Mike – and then don’t have the balls to say BLACK LIVES MATTER:”
As the Twitterverse rejoiced for Rae Sremmurd’s victory on Monday night and celebrated America for the accomplishment, Summer 2015 rushed back into my mind. My "newly-minted white friend" rushed back into my mind. According to the exit polls via CNN, 48 percent of whites ages 18-29 voted for Donald Trump. This is the demographic that shows up to rap concerts. This is the demographic that buys rap music. This is the demographic that participated in the #MannequinChallenge and helped “Black Beatles” hit the No. 1 spot:
The America that made Rae Sremmurd No. 1 is not a “different” America, it’s the same one.
That 48% is something. Same ones dabbing with you and rocking to Black Beatles were at the polls w/ their Make America Great Again hats on. pic.twitter.com/y9xlHv28rS— Frantz Paul (@LSN_Frantz) November 9, 2016
(Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for American Express)